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Mind the GAP!

In the farming world, GAP stands for Good Agricultural Practices, which at its most basic is a food safety program. As a general idea, this is something we farmers should all be doing already, by stewarding the land and waterways, making sure our facilities are clean and sanitary, and following clear procedures for harvesting and washing.

But to take it a couple steps further, a farm can obtain GAP certification which formalizes and standardizes everything to do with food safety on a farm. The farming community at large is steadily moving in that direction, and it only makes sense for us to jump on the train. Getting certified makes our business better and safer of course, but it also opens up new opportunities for increased sales from school systems and other institutional buyers.

We have spent a lot of time over the winter and early spring writing our food safety plan, streamlining our harvesting and washing procedures, writing SOPs (standard operating procedures) and creating documentation logs for all of our cleaning and sanitizing steps. The next step is the all-important audit to determine if we’ve done it all correctly!

That being said, we want to assure you that our CSA and members like you are still hugely important to us! We aren’t going to stop selling vegetables to our community in this way, but it just makes sense to diversify sales and get a solid system in place for food safety. Additionally, we’ve always been careful stewards of your food and the washing and sanitizing isn’t new, just streamlined and better documented now!

We also wanted to write this blog to share some of the new procedures and policies we’re implementing this year. Transparency is important to us, and we want our members and community to feel like they’re part of the farm and understand how their food is produced. All of this can get pretty nitty-gritty, but I’ll do my best to take a step back and give you the highlights.

Starting in the field, water sources and water cleanliness are crucial. We maintain logs of the water tests we get multiple times a year and record how we use the water from each source for irrigation and washing. For example, we only use overhead sprinkler irrigation with pond water on direct seeded crops until germination, when we switch to drip line irrigation. This minimizes the risk of any potential contaminants from getting on the leaves and fruits of the plants. We also have multiple types of filters for both our pond and well water.

Coming back to the barn with all of our harvested veggies, it's time to wash! We add a sanitizer solution to the wash water and test the concentration to make sure it’s working appropriately. We wash all of our leafy greens, from kale to lettuce, root vegetables, and potatoes and sweet potatoes. Summer veggies like tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, okra, and peppers keep longer unwashed, so we may wipe off some dirt but we don't dunk them in water. Any vegetable that falls on the ground is composted. Our food safety extension agent still highly recommends that everyone still wash their vegetables at home!

In terms of documentation, we now have lots of clipboards hanging around to log fridge temperatures, any pest sightings, tool cleanings, and many more. Every employee participates in health and hygiene training, which includes proper handwashing techniques. We have spray bottles of cleaning solution and sanitizer solution all over the barn to maintain the cleanliness of our “food contact surfaces” - an important food safety term right there!

So, while there are a lot of other details we could get into, I’ll leave it there for now. I hope this gives you a better idea of how our farm operates these days as we implement these new GAP policies. Food safety and cleanliness have always been important to us and we’re happy that this program helps to standardize and formalize everything.

Wish us luck on our inspection and don’t forget – wash your veggies!

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